Pay-TV players are bamboozled by your so-called 5G

5G video bamboozled
Image credit: turgaygundogdu /

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of chairing a 5G seminar on the sidelines of the AVIA Video Summit in Hong Kong. (Gentle reminder: AVIA is the pay-TV/satellite industry organization formerly known as CASBAA.) The AVIA is naturally preoccupied with the broadcast and video sector (to include satellite), but is also aware that (1) more and more people watch video on mobile devices, and (2) the mobile sector is making plans to evolve to 5G, one frequently hyped up feature of which is its support for real-time 4K video streams with interactive components.

There are two things AVIA members aren’t clear about: (1) what opportunities this creates for them, and (2) just what the heck is 5G, exactly?

A variety of speakers attempted to explain both, and here are a few general takeaways from that day’s discussions.

  1. 5G is a complete mystery to people who don’t work in telecoms

This point was raised frequently by audience members during the Q&As and the coffee breaks. The basic concept of 5G is clear enough – it’s really fast, enables latency of 1 ms, and will support massive IoT connectivity. But when you look at the practical applications, the business models, the technical challenges and the rollout plans over the next few years, some delegates were confused as to why they should be excited about any of this.

As one audience member from a satellite operator put it: “From what I understand, 5G will provide very spotty coverage and inconsistent latency when you drop from 5G to 4G or 3G, there’ll be no coverage in tunnels, and the millimeter-wave signals will be prone to interference when just one person stands between my handset and the base station – who in their right mind would invest money in that?”

The mobile sector has answers to all of these questions, of course. The point is that people who know little or nothing about mobile networks are hearing the 5G message and not really getting it. Which of course was the whole point of AVIA organizing the seminar in the first place. But it’s something for the mobile industry to always keep in mind when they go around talking about 5G as if everyone understands what they’re talking about. Because quite often, they don’t.

  1. People will watch more video on 5G, but their kids will redefine it

Virat Patel, managing director of Pioneer Consulting Asia, shared the results of surveys in which respondents named HD video as one of the first likely 5G apps, mainly by virtue of the fact that 5G enables faster data speeds and extra capacity that is conducive to mobile video.

Patel also noted that a consumer survey found that over half said they would watch more video on 5G than they do now. That said, he also cautioned that the survey questions didn’t assess just how much consumers knew about 5G.

So 5G may mean more video consumption, but does it also mean new revenue streams or new ways of watching video (i.e. simulcast camera angles, AR/VR, etc)? That remains to be seen.

During the opening panel session, however, Shad Hashmi – SVP of digital development global markets for BBC Studios – suggested that if you really want an idea of how 5G could impact video comsumption, watch your kids.

“We’re not looking enough at how kids consumer video,” he said. “They follow patterns that we as grownups aren’t used to. They will be the ones setting the agenda for 5G video in the near future.”

  1. Satellite operators are still mad about extended C-band

The satellite and mobile sectors have been at loggerheads for a couple of decades now about the 3.5 GHz band, which many satellite operators use for video delivery as an extension of the C-band. The mobile sector initially wanted to use it for WiMax, and – thanks to WRC-15 – is now clear to use it for 5G, as long as they take steps to mitigate interference issues.

While the satellite sector was heavily involved with the 3GPP in terms of ensuring 5G base stations can support satellite backhaul, losing the battle over 3.5 GHz is still a sore spot.

GapSat CEO and co-founder Gregg Daffner noted during a panel that the US FCC’s current proposal to reallocate and auction off the extended C-band for 5G usage is already inspiring similar moves in other countries, and satellite operators in those countries won’t even have the consolation of financial compensation for giving up spectrum simply because there’s no legal requirement for it (as there is in the US).

Daffner also argued that the loss of extended C-band is an even bigger deal in Asia because usage is much more widespread in this region than it is in the US.

“In Asia, the numbers are multiple orders of magnitude larger. In Thailand alone, there are 12 million C-band TVROs that are currently actively receiving critical video communication on a daily basis for households across all of Thailand,” he said. “And that’s just one of a dozen countries completely committed to the use of C-band.”

Daffner added that it’s “inconceivable that governments don’t recognize that this is an unpopular move”, but that they’re heavily influenced both by the promises of economic growth and investment attraction that 5G will allegedly deliver, and by the prospect of short-term windfalls in the form of having freed-up spectrum to sell off.

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